What’d J’ya Say God?

[by reed depace; from our church’s new website blog.]

So this has probably crossed your mind before:

• Does God still speak to people?
• If so, how?
• When that little voice speaks in my head, is that the Spirit?

Whatd jya say God.PNG

As always, we can only answer these kinds of questions by asking God Himself. You best friend’s grandmom’s neighbor’s cat’s opinion might be better than mine, but it is still just opinion. If we want truth, especially about God Himself, we need to ask God to speak for Himself.

Assume for a minute you believe the Bible is God speaking for Himself. (If you don’t believe this, I’ll be happy to show you how the Bible says this is true.) Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us that while God may have spoken through a little old lady’s cat in times past (and in a host of other unusual ways), He does not do that anymore.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb 1:1-2 ESV)

Can God speak through dreams, visions, wet fleeces, sticks turning into snakes, yada, yada, yada? Of course! Who can deny God doing what He wants? But as this passage expressly states, He does NOT do that anymore, not since He has spoken through His Son Jesus.

Now the theology wrapped up in Hebrews 1:2 is deep and wide and goes a long way toward giving us confidence to not make a pilgrimage to look at a piece of burnt toast with the (supposed) image of Jesus on it. It is sufficient here for us to observe that Jesus Himself says that He speaks today only through the Bible.

So, using this as our starting point, let’s ask the particular question: does God still speak to us, personally, through the Bible?

Hebrews 4:12 gives a compelling answer: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12)

It doesn’t get any more personal than the division of soul and spirit, speaking to us at the deepest and most intimate of levels in our being. Yes, God still speaks to us, even personally, but again, only through His word, the Bible.

Now there are lots of other passages in Scripture that also teach this. (One of my favorites is Jesus’ promise that His sheep actually do hear His voice, John 10:27.) And the doctrine of illumination does tell us that this speech is by the Spirit and at the deepest, most intimate of levels in our beings (1 Corinthians 2:7-14).

Yet in spite of this promise, this guarantee, we still have that niggling little question in the back of our minds, “how does the Spirit do this?”

The Bible is amazingly silent on that question. (I think this is related to our idolatry of our own abilities and what we’d do with the details of the how-answer, but that is a subject for another post.) We simply cannot go into too much detail, lest we end up in error, and get even more confused. Or worse, we end up identifying the Spirit speaking through a means He does not, and actually begin listening to the Enemy.

From Scriptures, what we can say is this:

• God does speak personally to His children.
• They can recognize that He is speaking to them.
• It is the Spirit who does the speaking.
• He always and only speaks to us consistent with the written record found in Scripture.
• He always speaks in a manner that increases our repentance and strengthens our faith.
• He always speaks those things which convict us of sin, convince us of Jesus sufficiency, and conform us to growing in Christlikeness.

And yet again, this still leaves us a bit murky about exactly how the Spirit does this. That can be a bit frustrating. While I can’t give you any “thus saith the Lord!” I can offer two biblically informed illustrations that may help you put a bit more faith into God’s personal speaking to you through the Bible.

First, consider the four faculties of the soul: mental (thinking), emotional (feeling), conscience (judging), and will (choosing). These are not separate functions but integrated capacities that are always working in conjunction with one another. Given that the Bible is itself in a form that interacts with our soul’s faculties, and given that the Bible says the Spirit speaks the Bible intimately into our souls, we are safe to observe that in some manner the Spirit’s speaking the Bible into us is received by us in our souls. This eliminates the “audible voice” expectation, as well as a host of other unusual “coincidences” that many of us still rely on. (I still get a kick out of Christians who, when something bad happens, say, “Uh oh, bad things always come in threes.” Talk about a messed up way of hearing from God. :P )

Second, consider the idea that we can tell the Spirit’s speaking by the results, the evidence left behind. To understand this better let me draw your attention briefly to the Large Hardon Collider in Cern, Switzerland (you may have heard about this related to something called the “God particle”). This thing is an atomic accelerator. Scientists use it to discover and describe sub-atomic particles. The interesting thing is that they do not have instruments that are able to see these sub-atomic particles. Instead of examining the particles directly, using this accelerator they crash atoms into each other at very high speeds.

atom crashing

The resulting collisions, like a car accident, send these unsee-able particles careening off in all directions. As the particle fly off they hit other atoms in the air around them, causing them damage. Like an accident investigator, the scientists then can measure the nature and shape of the unseen sub-atomic particles by the effects they had on the seen atoms they damaged.

This is in part how we can identify that the Spirit has indeed spoken to us, by the results, the effects of His speaking the Bible into us. Jesus says we will know the credibility of someone else’s relationship with Him by the fruits of that relationship (Matthew 7:16-20). This applies to looking at ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5; Proverbs 26:2; Galatians 6:4;1 John 3:20-21, and other passages). The fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) are expressly the good results, the dramatic changes that take place in our life, as a result of His speaking the Bible into us. These are the seen evidences of the unseen speaking of the Spirit.

But still, what about that voice we hear in the back of our heads? What is that?! Pulling these two illustrations together, here is what I think happens.

Consider that it is a common experience for people to have an inner voice. This is a normal function of our soul, usually assigned to our consciences (think about the picture of the little angel and devil, sitting on either shoulder, whispering into your ears). This is universal, common to all mankind, so much so that people with defects in their inner voice are identified as mentally ill: schizophrenia, people with more than one inner voice; bi-polar, two opposing inner voices; sociopaths, people with no inner voice. Such folks have defects in their soul’s faculties.

So, considering that the inner voice is a common experience to all mankind, and that Christians find this inner voice increasingly sounding like the Bible, what I think is going on is this:

• The Spirit “speaks” to us in a spiritual manner that the Bible does not describe.
• He does so through the Bible itself.
• He uses secondary means (e.g., preaching, reading, listening), but these secondary means are not themselves His speaking.
• We do not “hear” His voice directly, either through our physical bodies or our immaterial souls.
• Rather, we see the results of His speaking.
• And the first result, is changes wrought in our souls.
• That is, the Spirit speaks the Bible to our souls, and we experience the results of that speech.
• The inner voice we hear and wonder, “Is that God speaking?” is our own inner voice, evidencing the changes produced by
the Spirit’s speaking the Bible into us.

In other words we can tell the Spirit speaks to us to the degree our inner voice echoes the Bible. As the Spirit speaks the Bible to us, into our souls, we find ourselves increasingly:

• Thinking the way the Bible says we should think,
• Feeling the way the Bible says we should feel,
• Judging the way the Bible says we should judge, and
• Choosing the way the Bible says we should choose.

These are first-order, or immediate fruits of the Spirit’s speech into us, evidences that He has indeed spoken.

So we must be careful when talking about our inner voice and the Spirit’s speaking to us. The Bible tells us that the inner voice IS NOT the voice of the Spirit. Instead, the inner voice, as it grows more and more to echo, to repeat what the Bible says, is evidence to us that the Spirit truly has spoken to us.

This is a great encouragement. I know the Spirit will speak to me, personally. I know He will use secondary means. I know whatever He says will always and only agree with what I see with my eyes and hear with my ears written in the Bible. And finally, I know that my soul, my spirit, will experience the results of His speech.

Now this does not call for us to adopt some form of Christian navel gazing, some form of mantra-induced emptying of our thoughts so we can concentrate and not miss something the Spirit says to our inner voice. Instead it is a cause for great relief. I can relax, rest, and just take advantage of the ordinary means that I use in faith to participate with the promise of the Spirit’s speech.

• I can read my Bible;
• Use reading glasses when the words are too small;
• Take a break when I have a headache;
• Do a quick doodle on the edge of the bulletin when I’m starting to lose focus on what that long-winded preacher is saying;
• Prepare the notes for my next small group meeting, etc.,

And be assured, that though I’m like those scientists crashing atoms and can’t tell exactly how the Spirit is speaking, He will be speaking, and will leave behind the evidences, growth into the beauty and glory of the image of Jesus Christ.

• Here is another article emphasizing some of these points:
http://bit.ly/God-told-me
• Here is an excellent and short book particularly applying these points to how God reveals His personal will to us:
http://bit.ly/Ferguson_Gods-Will

If I can help with any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask. In the meantime:

Stop listening to the neighbor’s cat,

Cat mouth

Stop staring at your toaster waiting for the bread to be burnt just right.

Toasty Jesus

Go read your Bible!

by reed depace

16 Comments

  1. John Harutunian said,

    February 5, 2016 at 10:56 am

    Reed, I really think you’ve gone beyond Scripture. Neither in the Hebrews passage nor anywhere else does Scripture say that God no longer speaks in dreams and visions. The point of Hebrews 1 is simply that Christ is the fullness of God’s revelation, the “express image” of His person. It is plain from Acts 7:56 (Stephen’s vision), Acts 9:10 (Ananias’ vision), and Acts 10;10 (Peter’s trance) that God still speaks in dreams and visions. Hence the change which the Hebrews passage refers to is one of emphasis.

  2. February 5, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    But…but…I just *know* God was speaking to me because of that voice from my sock drawer this morning…

  3. rfwhite said,

    February 6, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Reed: on the one hand, Scripture doesn’t say that God no longer speaks in dreams and visions. On the other hand, Scripture doesn’t say that God always speaks in dreams and visions. So what are we to do?

  4. roberty bob said,

    February 6, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    I gather that some people think Jesus is toast! Sad.

  5. roberty bob said,

    February 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    1 Peter 4:11 — “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very word of God.”

    2 Corinthians 5:20 — “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

    In godly conversation, Christian witness, and Gospel proclamation, Christ’s authorized agents are given the ability to speak the very word of God. God can — and does — speak his word through his redeemed servants, who are ministers of the Word. Do you agree with this?

  6. Reed Here said,

    February 8, 2016 at 4:42 pm

    John, understand your challenge. Respectfully I don’t think I am going beyond Scripture. Regarding Heb 1:1-2, where I am hanging the ‘heavy” exegetical weight, I am working off some exegetical study from Dr. Richard Gaffin.

    He may be wrong, or more likely, I may have learned incorrectly from him. Yet my memory of his explanation of the emphasis in this passage is that we ONLY have warrant to say that God speaks to us in Jesus, and that exclusively. God may choose to speak via other means (we have no warrant to limit) Him, but He has only told us He speaks in Jesus. The contrast with the “old ways” emphasizes that speaking to us in Jesus replaces these old ways in a manner that ceases them.

    Further, God’s speaking in/through Jesus is both one of comprehensiveness that yields finality. We need no more than what we hear from Jesus. In Him all God’s promises are complete. Accordingly, we are to expect God to speak today in no other way than through Jesus.

    Finally, Jesus teaches that His definitive speech is completely comprehended within the written record of Scripture. Hard stop. There is no expectation that Jesus’ words come through any other source than His own authoritative means, the ministry of the Apostles. This we have today in the NT.

    The examples you adduce, good as they are of means other than the ministry of Inspiration-Illumination, are set within the context of the limits of Scripture alone. E.g., we would not know of these particular events apart from their recording in Scripture.

    Further, in their context these are, can we say it this way, both consistent with Heb 1:1-2 and transitional to Heb 1:1-2’s limits. Yes, I am making an argument that rests on the non-normativeness of these events recorded in the NT. At the very least in their context nothing argues for or against their continuing experience. If I’m reading the import of Heb 1:1-2 (with other Scripture) right, then the argument for non-normativity is sound. With the close of the NT canon, we are not to expect God to speak outside the ministry of Inspiration-Illumination.

    (Please forgive some technical terminology here. I most likely owe you some defining of my usage, but do not have much time. Wanted to offer you some interaction though.)

  7. Reed Here said,

    February 8, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    Fowler, maybe it would help to differentiate between the ministry of Inspiration and the ministry of Illumination. I;m arguing here that in terms of Inspiritation, God no longer speaks in any other means that through Scripture.

    This limit does, however, leave a role for God to speak through other means, via the ministry of illumination. Couching this way, in what I think are the biblical limits, tells us that what God (the Spirit) might say to us in other means that the ordinary means of grace, must be consistent with and even submissive to the settled ministry of Inspiration, that is, the Scriptures. However the Spirit might “say” it, what He says will be consistent with the Bible. More, it will in that way be a ministry, an application of the Bible to us.

    So what do we do about dreams? I am quite comfortable with not being able to answer the question fully. I can say that the Spirit gives no more dreams that communicate anything from God apart from what is already recorded in the Bible. I can say that IF the Spirit chooses to use a dream to communicate to the believer, He ONLY communicates what is already there in Scripture itself. In short-hand, the Spirit’s ministry of Illumination is always communication of Inspiration.

    Applied to dreams? “Pastor, I had this dream … What do you think it means?” is how the conversation goes. My response is always this simple: where it matches the Scripture, rejoice and listen. Where it does not, drop and ignore it.

    What do you think?

  8. Reed Here said,

    February 8, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    Roberty,

    If by “speak the very word of God,” you mean the Scriptures alone, yes.

    If by “God can — and does — speak his word through his redeemed servants,” you mean the Spirit uses the ministry of the word by His servants as a means for the ministry of Illumination, yes.

    Is that what you’re shooting for?

  9. rfwhite said,

    February 8, 2016 at 5:42 pm

    7 Reed: my main point was that, because Scripture nowhere states expressly that He continues to speak through extraordinary means or that He has ceased to speak through extraordinary means, we are required to draw good and necessary inference from Scripture. I’m with you: there are ample reasons to believe that God’s former ways of revealing His will to His people have ceased.

    Yet, glory be, our God has not become mute: the Holy Spirit “is speaking” through Scripture, as exemplified in a text like Heb 3:7 citing Ps 95 (where the present tense matters). We ought never to be less than satisfied in the knowledge that, in the Bible, we do hear God’s true voice. In it, we know that He is speaking His very words to us. As Scripture itself testify, we now have the prophetic word made more sure, and to it we do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place (2 Pet 1:19). As you argued, God’s prophetic word, spoken or written, reached its final stage in the word declared by Christ and especially His apostles. So, contrary to what we sometimes hear, we need settle for nothing less than the very words of God, and we have just that in Scripture.

  10. Reed Here said,

    February 8, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    [Non-existent “like” button hereby clicked for comment no. 9]

  11. roberty bob said,

    February 8, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    to #8 Reed . . .

    I understand the 1 Peter 4:11 clause “to speak as one speaking the very word of God” to entail more that quoting the Holy Scriptures when one speaks. I take it to mean that the Christian in his preaching and conversation always speaks as the Spirit leads him; such speaking will then be in accord with the Scriptures and be received as a true ministry of the Word. God is pleased to speak to others through us whenever we follow the lead of the Spirit of Truth in our speaking.

    What I’m shooting for — because I believe that the Scriptures themselves affirm it — is a view of God speaking not just when the Holy Scriptures are read and heard, but whenever godly people speak to others in accordance with the Truth. This view allows for the sermon to be received as the Word of God. This view allows for faithful witness to be received as the Word of God. This view allows for wise counsel to be received as the Word of God.

  12. Don said,

    February 9, 2016 at 4:18 am

    Your argument for cessationism is that Hebrews 1:1-2 says that prophecy stopped when Jesus appeared. This seems like special pleading to me, since you have to excuse several decades following His ascension. I do not mean the writers of Scripture; I am referring to the many people that we know, from Scripture, were prophets even if we know little or nothing of what they prophesied (such as Philip’s daughters).

    Now, regarding what a prophet would prophesy, yes I agree it would only be something completely in accord with Scripture. I Cor 14:29 and I John 4:1 say that we (the church) must evaluate the prophesies that are given; if the prophecy is from Jesus (or via the Holy Spirit, if you prefer to put it that way) then it will be consistent with Jesus’ recorded Word.

  13. Reed Here said,

    February 9, 2016 at 10:34 am

    Don, not when Jesus appeared, but when Jesus’ own testimony under the ministry of Inspiration concluded. This testimony was concluded in the in ministry of the Apostles. John’s words about adding and subtracting to this testimony in Rev 22 make this case.

    So, not when Jesus appeared, but when Jesus finished His own testimony under Inspiration; that is when prophecy concluded.

    This is NOT saying that Jesus’ testimony does not continue under the ministry of illumination. It certainly does. But that is not prophecy as in the kind taught in Scripture under the ministry of Inspiration.

  14. Reed Here said,

    February 9, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Roberty, if I am reading you correctly, I demur. It may be that your speaking with some hyperbole (or even a bit unguardedly) and do not intend for the conclusion that reads equating our words as ordained servants as God’s own words. So, addressing what I acknowledge you may not be intending …

    Your or my words, as informed by Scripture as they may be, are not God’s own words. The Spirit’s use of our words about God’s word is not even guaranteed as to expect it to be automatic. The praise of the Bereans demonstrates that there is always to be the process of comparing our words about the Word with the Word. When and where the Spirit wills it so, the person will then receive our words as a faithful expression of God’s word. They will not receive our words as God’s very own words.

    I think I get what you’re driving for, a strong expectation and respect for the Spirit’s ministry through His ordained servants. I agree with the sentiment as being in the best of interests for the child of God. Nevertheless, this one qualification is needed, I believe, to fully bless the child of God.

  15. roberty bob said,

    February 9, 2016 at 11:02 am

    #14 Reed . . .

    ” . . . our words as a faithful expression of God’s word. ”

    I agree. Thanks for your thoughtful response.

  16. Don said,

    February 9, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Reed 13,
    OK, thanks. I just don’t see anything like that from these verses in Hebrews.


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